Microsoft is focusing on RIA (rich Internet application) development capabilities for its upcoming Silverlight 2 browser plug-in, a recent blog post by a company official has revealed.

Scott Guthrie, general manager in the Microsoft Developer Division, listed features planned for Silverlight 2 and the beta in his blog. A Microsoft spokesman subsequently described the blog as providing the most detail to date on Silverlight 2.

With the Silverlight platform, Microsoft is expected to tackle Adobe and its popular Flash technology in the RIA space. Microsoft's Mix 08 conference in Las Vegas in early March seems like the obvious place to introduce the beta, because Silverlight was the star attraction at Mix 07last year. The Microsoft spokesman would not confirm a launch at the show but said the company planned to ship the beta during the first quarter of this year.

Guthrie said that Silverlight 2 features a cross-platform, cross-browser version of the .Net Framework, which means developers can write Silverlight applications using a .Net language, such as Visual Basic, C#, JavaScript, IronPython, or IronRuby. Microsoft plans to ship support for developer and designer workflow along with integration for Silverlight in its Visual Studio 2008 and Expression Studio tools.

The introduction of Silverlight 2, which had previously been named Silverlight 1.1 is vital in Microsoft's battle with Adobe, one analyst has stressed.

"That's the one that uses the .Net Framework for programming so it can leverage all of Microsoft's developer tools," said analyst Rob Helm of Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm. "Developer tools could become Microsoft's secret weapon," since many developers already are familiar with Visual Studio and .Net Framework, he said.

The 1.0 version of Silverlight has been more geared to video, while Silverlight 2 adds .Net development and transactional capabilities. To bolster RIA development, the Beta 1 release will include a Windows Presentation Foundation UI framework for building rich web applications. It offers a "powerful" graphics and animation engine plus support for higher-level capabilities, such as controls, layout management, data-binding, and template skinning, Guthrie said.

The Beta 1 release is 4.3 MB in size.

"Once Silverlight 2 is installed, you can browse the web and automatically run rich Silverlight applications within your browser of choice," Guthrie said. This includes such browsers as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and others.